The numbers on the clock radio glow red in the early dark of an October morning as he leans across the pillow to kiss my cheek, his beard brushing my skin.
Only minutes earlier, I awakened to the angular slant of light from the bathroom cutting across the carpet outside our bedroom, the rush of water from the faucet, the jingle of coins scooped from the dresser top into his work uniform pocket.
In minutes, after he’s laced his grimy Red Wing work shoes, I will hear the door shut, imagine him pulling the rag rug into place that protects the 1995 Chrysler upholstery from grease, picture him heading out of Faribault for the 22-minute commute to work.
For 30 years he’s followed this routine, although not always leaving the house before 6 a.m. But he is busy, crazy busy, in the NAPA automotive machine shop. This is nothing new; it’s been this way for three decades.
My husband at work in the NAPA automotive machine shop where he has worked for 30 years. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.
He, my husband Randy, possesses a strong work ethic that drives him to work well before the appointed 8 a.m. start and to leave well after the appointed 5 p.m. end of his work day and to labor most Saturdays. When he takes a rare week day off—from only 10 annual vacation days—he is stressed even more trying to meet customer demands.
Every time he takes a vacation day, and those are seldom and never more than five at a time unless combined with a holiday, he must labor doubly hard. Long days before he leaves. Long days afterward. Often it hardly seems worth the time away.
Just one example of all the work that awaits my husband in the NAPA automotive machine shop. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.
But Randy sometimes needs a break from pressing customers and the pile of work that never diminishes. His skills—the turning of brake rotors, the resurfacing of heads, the grinding of valves and flywheels and a multitude of other automotive machining tasks I don’t understand—is in high demand. Few do what he does and he’s good at it. Probably the best in southeastern Minnesota as evidenced by his wide regional customer base and the endless work load.
Everyone wants their car, their truck, their SUV, their van, their tractor, their combine, their snowblower, their lawnmower, their recreational vehicles, their whatever, repaired first.
In 2008, Randy was recognized by his employer for 25 years of service to Parts Department, Inc., Northfield. Randy received a plaque, dinner out and an air wrench. Photo by Dan Christopherson.
Did you catch that early on noted time frame of 30 years?
Randy grinds a flywheel. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.
October marks 30 years since Randy started working as the automotive machinist for Parts Department, Inc. (NAPA), Northfield.
My husband’s NAPA automotive machine shop toolbox. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.
Thirty years at one business. Remarkable, isn’t it?
Even more remarkable, Randy’s labored in the automotive field for just shy of 40 years. Only two years out of high school and with two years of trade school education, he packed his car in the spring of 1976 for Plentywood, Montana. He lasted there as a parts man for a month, returning from the middle of nowhere to settle in southeastern Minnesota.
Randy at work. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.
Randy was employed as a parts man in Rochester, eventually relocating to K & G Auto Parts in Faribault. There he worked as a parts man before moving into the machine shop and learning that skilled trade. He also worked in an Owatonna machine shop until the previous owner of the Northfield NAPA enticed Randy to join his business.
He genuinely loves his job, working solo in the machine shop, although Randy says he always dreamed of being a rural mail carrier. Had he chosen that career path, he would be retired by now, collecting a pension. Taking vacations. Sleeping in. Saturdays off.
Instead, dirt and grease outline his fingernails. Faded white scars mar his skin. Flecks of errant metal, from work projects, lie beneath the surface of his skin. Sometimes, too often, his back aches. He rises early. Works long days. Sometimes falls asleep in the recliner as the evening fades. Takes well-deserved Sunday afternoon naps.
He’s worked hard to provide a steady income for our family, allowing me to stay home and raise our three children and work part-time from home and continue to pursue my passions in writing and photography. We are not wealthy in monetary terms. But the mortgage is paid on our modest house, food is always on the table, clothing on our backs, bills covered.
And it is because of my farm-raised, blue collar hardworking husband.
Please join me in congratulating Randy on his 30-year anniversary as the automotive machinist at Parts Department, Inc., Northfield. And also wish him a happy birthday, for today, October 12, is his birthday.
© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling